Profiles of People: “Old Shoe,” the craftsman
downtown Mihail Papadimitriou
Mihail Papadimitriou shows off a size 18 shoe from one of his many customers at his downtown Everett shoe repair shop.
Mihail Papadimitriou tries to talk to everybody, except somebody who is trying to make trouble. I was honored he placed me in the latter category. His life extends back to Greece, but the United States is his home since 1967 and he has become a European Craftsman working on all shoe types, including orthopedic corrections.
He owns a little shop right out of Pinocchio called People’s Shoe Repair at 2825 Wetmore Ave., Everett.
His life is comprised of old world values and charm mixed with quality workmanship. The bell rings when you enter. The smell of quality leather fills the small space. Shoes, all sizes, shapes and colors, can be seen behind a vintage desk where Michael (as he prefers to be called) sits. Photographs of famous figures cover the walls of his cozy shop, along with previous writings he has framed and hung from the many periods of his life.
Being in this quaint pleasing space is like being in any authentic non-tourist shop in Europe. Michael could have picked up, via time travel, and placed this store in any small American town and it would attract those who appreciate “hanging out” where you are welcome, you feel important, and your shoes will get an honest assessment and good care — if you are not trying to cause trouble and have worthy shoes that can be saved.
He was raised by his mother and father with two sisters and three brothers in Greece. His mother loved her garden and he went to school. He remembers learning algebra in sixth grade, and thinks the schools in this country might want to think about having night school for children who need to work during the day. Personally I think it’s a reasonable idea, and year round schools. We agreed children have too much time on their hands. His wife of 32 years has passed away, as have many of his people, but he loves that he has his daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. They don’t live close, but they come to visit.
For fun nowadays, besides his business, he and his friends go out for coffee, meals and he also attends a Greek orthodox church in Seattle.
He enlightened me: “Listen. A long time ago someone told me: Be happy because the time flies. If you are not happy, make your life happy. Stay away from unhappy people!” I believe this to be true.
Michael is strong in his own faith, and does not care for it when people approach him on the street to try and make him want theirs. He says it’s better “like the Catholics, you can invite someone to come with you and then if they come in your church and like it they might want to stay.”
Michael makes sure to note he is not lonesome and that he is happy. Basically his philosophy is he doesn’t care what people believe — as long as they believe in something. He says he respects everyone’s own life and everyone must prepare his life the best he can.
He longs for the good old days when prisons and all schools had vocational programs where people learned real job skills like carpentry and shoe repair. He once hired an inmate who had learned shoe repair while serving time in the Washington State Reformatory in Monroe. That was in the 1960s. He says they need to teach people vocational skills in all countries when they are young.
At the age of 17, Michael left his small town and went to Athens. Then in 1967 his uncle sponsored him and he came to the United States because he could live with his uncle in Everett. His father and brother had both come over to the United States many years before. They both worked in a coal mine in Montana; but when the First World War erupted, all the young Greek men age 21 and older abroad were told to return to Greece and fight as soldiers. His father was wounded and was never able to come back. So an uncle in the United States became his sponsor and helped him learn the shoe repair trade. In 1934 an uncle opened a shoe repair shop above an old hotel in Everett.
The old place is gone, but you will still feel the same “vibe” if you spend some time with Michael, who took over the business, now on Wetmore, in 1967.
I asked Michael: “Why a shoe repair shop?” I loved his answer. He said, “All Greeks, when they come to this country, open restaurants. The hours and days are long. I wanted to live my life and so a shoe shop would have regular hours.”
Such a wise man. From September to May he still wears a tie when he is at work or going out. His uncle taught him, “You always wear tie and are well spoken. People give you more respect. If a man has money in his pocket or woman has money in her purse (it) doesn’t matter. People will respect you if you dress clean and speak well.”
He had one man come in for his shoes and the customer never thanked Michael for his work. Michael thanked him over and over waiting for the man to say “thank you.” The rude customer never did.
When the person left the shop, Michael says he said to himself about that customer: “I’m happy I don’t have to see you day in and day out.”
The United States is Michael’s country, from 1969 until 1974, pretty much alone in a foreign country, he worked hard and attended Everett Community College to learn English and become an American citizen. He firmly believes that once you come to live in any foreign country you must work hard to learn English yourself — not leave it to your children to learn and take care of that for you.
I salute him, his happiness and his richly experienced Greek-American life.
Author Patricia Therrell’s column has returned. Her column traditionally runs on the third week of the month.
If you’d like to suggest someone to profile, let the Tribune know: 360-568-4121 or
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